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Dec 16, 2022 2022-12 Accountancy Alumni Business Administration Faculty Finance Student

Business 101: Not your usual introductory business course

For Aimee Barbeau, leading Business 101 represents a unique opportunity to impact the future of business. That’s because this unique course, which is taken by every first-year student in Gies College of Business, provides tomorrow’s leaders with a chance to consider how business benefits society and the role they can play in making that happen.

“We have been very intentional to ground this course in Business on Purpose,” says Barbeau, teaching assistant professor of business administration and course director. “Students want to know that what they are learning matters. We introduce them to the social value of business and help them consider a purposeful path that fulfills their own personal mission and how that is integrated into the mission of business.”

Ethics and professional responsibility – the focus of Business 101 – is the foundation that path is built on, says Barbeau, who in 2021 was named one of the nation's Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors by Poets&Quants. “If you know your purpose and the social value of your business, your ethics will flow out of that. Ethics isn’t an add on. It is a natural outgrowth of a personal and professional mission.”

To convey that content, Barbeau relies on the course’s innovative teaching model and a group of 40 talented upperclassmen. These Gies students meet weekly with the first-year students in 25-person sections to ensure a small, collaborative environment where topics can be thoroughly explored. A reimagined capstone project also distinguishes the Business 101 experience.

“The big social problems of the day are front of mind for our learners,” says Barbeau. “It wouldn’t make sense to them if we didn’t tackle them. That’s why in Business 101, we created a capstone project that challenges learners to explore how issues like inequality, cybersecurity, and the environment impact business and how businesses respond. Through these projects, learners explore how business benefits society, why that matters, and their responsibility to further the social value of business.”

“We call them ‘wicked problems,’” says Zoe Hannon, a senior majoring in supply chain management and marketing, who serves as one of the course’s section leaders. “In Business 101, we define them as problems that all companies face. They are impossible to completely solve but through innovative thinking can be mitigated and lead to better industry standards.”

The capstone projects give learners an opportunity to see that businesses are actively working on these “wicked” problems and are open to ideas from future business leaders.

“The first fall that we introduced this new capstone project, we recruited 11 companies that engaged with our learners on these important topics,” says Barbeau. “It opened their eyes and gave them a chance to consider what companies can do to further move the needle on addressing these big social problems”

For Hannon, who took Business 101 before the new capstone project was established, it’s an impressive addition to the course. “Learners benefit from direct interaction with company representatives who meet with them three times before they present directly to the business,” she says. “They see the company’s dedication to the topic and to their learning through that commitment.”

The business-on-purpose focus and the collaborative, problem-solving format of Business 101 provides additional benefits for the students, says Barbeau. “Business 101 is the first of the cohort courses required for each of their four years. It is foundational and sets the tone of group work and purposeful focus that sets learners up for success. They learn that problems don’t have just one answer, and they become comfortable with ambiguity. It’s real-world preparation and an opportunity to develop their own identity as a businessperson.”

As a member of the first class of students to complete the four-course sequence, Hannon agrees. “Business 101 creates a foundation and framework that you can build on for the simulation and strategic aspects of Business 201, for the consulting work of Business 301, and for the global focus of Business 401. We start with that foundation and then zoom out using all we’ve learned. It’s a well-conceived and executed curriculum that sets us up to be successful professionals.”